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"The reasonable man adapts himself to the world.
The unreasonable man persists in trying to
adapt the world to himself.
Therefore, all progress depends on
the unreasonable man."

George Bernard Shaw



Studying paradoxes is important to the development of a creative mind. A true paradox presents a perceptual enigma to the mind. What appears to be real cannot be, and yet it is. To study paradoxes allows the mind to reach beyond what appears to be obvious. Reaching beyond the obvious is the essence of creativity.

Study the three necker cubes below. The necker cube is an excellent example of a changing perceptual field. In fact, if you stare at it long enough, your right brain will perceive the forward protrusion to be to the lower left. Your left brain will see the forward protrusion to the upper right. If you continue to stare at it it will begin to switch back and forth. It is believed that allowing the cube to switch back and forth will entrain the brain and create a whole brain state.

Necker Cubes

If you further examine the middle and right cubes you will see that they have been drawn in a paradoxical fashion. The lines that delineate the forward protrusion either to the left or the right have been altered. They are configured in a way that would be impossible for a real cube to exist, and yet they are real as they are drawn. It's similar to studying an M.C. Escher drawing.

Remember these cubes next time you are confronted with a puzzle that seems impossible to solve. Remember that the clues you have been given may be deceptive, and that the solution lies outside of the perceptually obvious.

If you can train yourself to be alert to seeming paradoxes in solving life's continual challenges, you will remember to open your mind and not accept things by their appearance alone.

Paradox is all around us and permeates our daily experience more than most people are aware. Yet, we all have a general tendency to shy away from paradox, assuming at first glance that there are irreconcilable opposites involved, and the twain shall never meet. The Paradox Process by Derm Barrett is a thorough study of the concept of paradoxical thinking. It is informative and entertaining reading and should be read by anyone who needs to utilize creative thought (which includes everyone) in their daily work environment, or who just enjoys thinking beyond the obvious. There are many self-training techniques that will facilitate your ability to think in paradoxical terms.


The heart of his theory is that there are three major types of paradoxical thought, Contrary thinking, Janusian thinking and Hegelian thought.

According to Barrett, Contrarian thinking is when "1. You conceive of doing something opposite; 2. You think of replacing something by its opposite, whether that thing is a belief, a value, an idea or an object; 3 you entertain the thought that your opponent is right and you are wrong, or just assume that an opposite point of view might be worth looking at."

Janusian Thinking is "bringing two opposites together in your mind, holding them there together at the same time, considering their relationships, similarities, pros and cons, and interplay, then creating something new and useful."

Hegelian Thinking is "when you visualize how to fuse, combine, mingle, integrate or synthesize two opposites to produce a third entity." An example being newspaper photographs consisting of black and white dots that through their interplay produce a cohesive picture.

Barrett has taken his central inspiration from Western philosophers and scientists in adopting Contrarian, Janusian and Hegelian thought processes. Most have assumed that paradoxical thinking comes essentially from Eastern thought and the resolution of opposites. Though he delves into this realm, as mentioned below, he has blended the Western approach to express how valid it is in learning his techniques.

As Lao-tzu, the wise Oriental sage pointed out centuries ago, opposites are everywhere. The one observation that also indicated his genius was that he also considered the space between opposites where "nothing" exists as being essential to understanding. Rather than being perplexed by opposites and considering them contradictory, one might adopt the attitude that there could be no material existence without opposites. Any reasonable photographer knows that light alone is incomplete. Without the absence of light, or shadow and darkness, light would have no differentiation, there could be no image. Every image that we see is a blending of these two opposing elements, and to the degree that they express is the nature of the image. This is the idea of the Yin and Yang of Eastern wisdom.

The Paradox Process is also filled with many thoughtful exercises that will stimulate your ability to not only reconcile paradox, but to employ it for creative purposes. One of these that I was most attracted to and that is covered a lot on this web site he calls Paralogical thought. This is the kind of thinking that leaps out beyond the boundaries of logical, linear thinking and begins to imagine the bizarre and otherwise unthinkable solutions to a problem. The advantage of entertaining this kind of thought is that otherwise overlooked possibilities are at least considered, no matter how absurd they appear on the surface, and no stone is unturned in the consideration of resolution. This is more important than most can imagine, and should be taught more in our public school systems. Children naturally allow themselves to venture into the truly imaginative realms of problem solving, but are slowly bent to the "logical" and "linear" point of view. Truly creative thought is often educated out of them.

The book also has many visual examples of paradox, some are really quite clever, as the picture above indicating the words true and false in the same rendering. Though I've seen quite a bit of paradoxical images, Barrett has many in the book that are new to me.

I was particularly pleased at the end to see a list of exercises that went beyond the usual academic concepts of paradoxical thinking. One  that I heartily agree with is the use of humor. Humor is such a potent tool in not only grasping and holding onto the absurd, but in relaxing the body and mind so that real solutions can present themselves without prejudice. Barrett also promotes the concepts of Alpha and Theta Reveries, or just plain purposeful daydreaming. Something, again, we all employed as children, but have unlearned in the "maturation" process. And, last but not the least most potent tool, one that I have been using for most of my life is that of Deliberate Dreaming. We all have the ability to tell ourselves just before falling asleep what we want to dream about. In this way we are giving our subconscious mind a conscious directive to work on a problem we haven't solved yet while in the dream state. We may get what would appear to be bizarre and unrecognizable image or image-states. Yet, when examined closely these images can be seen as the perfect resolution to paradoxical conflict, such that our waking mind would never consider.

This is an excellent book for those of high school age and beyond to read, contemplate, play with the exercises and use as a tool to learn to think in paradoxical terms. Once you can embrace this new approach to thinking your world will become easier to maneuver in and your ability express more creatively will become be enhanced.

© J.L. Read, 1998. All Rights Reserved.
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This site is dedicated in loving memory
to its creator, Janet L. Read
1949 — 2000


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